WASHINGTON – In a rare show of self-restraint from a man who often seems to lack it, President Donald Trump stayed off Twitter Thursday as former FBI Director James Comey testified in front of Congress.
His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had no such inclinations. The younger Trump had tweeted more than 80 times by 6:30 p.m. Thursday, defending his father and blasting Comey, the man his father fired last month.
Trump Jr. in particular seized on Comey’s assertion that he interpreted the president’s statement that he “hoped” the FBI would drop its probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn as an instruction.
“Knowing my father for 39 years when he ‘orders or tells’ you to do something there is no ambiguity, you will know exactly what he means,” Trump Jr. wrote.
He also pointed to Comey’s revelation that he had asked a friend to pass along to the press memos he had written documenting his interactions with Trump.
“Did I miss something or did Comey just say he asked a friend to leak information to the press?” asked Trump Jr. “Is this a joke?”
“That was fun,” Trump Jr. declared at the end of the hearing. He and his brother, Eric, now run their father’s business in New York.
The president, meanwhile, stayed silent, letting his personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, do the talking. Kasowitz read a prepared statement to reporters in response to Comey’s testimony, in which he said the president had “never, in form or substance” directed Comey to stop investigating anyone.
He also labeled Comey a leaker, accusing him of “unauthorized disclosures” of “privileged communications” he’d had with the president.
Trump has a long history of responding to personal slights on Twitter, though his most volatile comments typically arrive in early morning and late-night hours, often when he is by himself and watching negative news coverage of his actions. Trump has been warned by lawyers to watch what he tweets because his comments could be used against him.
Staff also kept the president busy, with a series of meetings and events.
Trump spent Thursday morning meeting with his secretary of state, secretary of defence and national security adviser, discussing North Korea, the Persian Gulf region and other matters, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. He then headed to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference, where he delivered a speech in front of a friendly crowd.
The president told the religious gathering that “we’re under siege.”
“But we will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch,” he said.
Trump, who spent time meeting with Kasowitz after returning from the speech, also declined to answer shouted questions about the testimony at a panel with governors and local government leaders who had come to the White House to talk infrastructure.
Trump, said one person familiar with his thinking, felt good about the testimony, which proved him right in several cases and included the revelation that Comey had leaked information to reporters. The person spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the president’s thinking.
And despite the dramatic testimony, Sanders tried to downplay the significance.
“In terms of the mood in the White House, I would say that it’s a regular Thursday at the White House. We’re carrying on,” she said.
In his testimony, Comey accused the president of telling “lies, plain and simple” when he claimed that the FBI was in disarray and poorly led, and that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader.
Comey also said he’d taken careful notes of his meetings because he worried the president might misrepresent them.
Sanders objected to the characterization. “I can definitively say the president’s not a liar,” she said.